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Salt Lake City police Chief Chris Burbank on Tuesday announced a new plan for combating prostitution, human trafficking and gambling that places an emphasis on helping people quit the vices.
The city's new Organized Crime Unit will generate fewer arrests and citations, Burbank said, and instead try to determine why someone is involved in crimes like prostitution and gambling. If the person has an addiction or is being forced into crime through trafficking, detectives will then try to "divert" the person into social services or another form of help, the chief said.
"It's not just writing a ticket to somebody for a Class B misdemeanor," Burbank said of the new model.
When detectives do find the local crime is part of a larger operation, the Organized Crime Unit will contact the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service or other federal agencies for assistance, Burbank said.
But Burbank said the Organized Crime Unit will still do a few abatement operations that the old Salt Lake City Vice Squad conducted. For instance, detectives recently conducted a sting operation on North Temple, arresting johns who tried to solicit prostitutes.
"I think if we impact the demand a little bit, that will reduce the supply side," Burbank said.
The Organized Crime Unit also will verify that Salt Lake City bars are not serving minors and that adult novelty stores are not selling banned materials, Burbank said.
Burbank disbanded the vice squad in the spring, saying the city needed a new model to investigate so-called crimes of moral turpitude in an age when the Internet has drawn prostitution and gambling online. But Burbank also acknowledged problems with detectives violating department policy.
In one case the Salt Lake City Civilian Review Board investigated, vice squad detectives left city boundaries and investigated and searched a massage parlor on 4500 South. And even though Salt Lake City police have a "no touch policy," one detective touched and kissed a suspect's breasts and another detective touched a suspect's genitals in order to gain evidence of prostitution.
Andrew McCullough, a Midvale attorney who has represented many of the state's adult stores, strip clubs and escort services, said he hopes the new unit doesn't assume adult businesses are all law breakers. Using escort services as an example, McCullough said he has seen cases where a Salt Lake City detective contacted escorts and immediately began asking for sex. McCullough compared that to assuming a bar is only serving people who aren't allowed to drink.
Police "should start from the point that this is a legitimate, licensed business, and, yes, on occasion a legitimate licensed business might make an error," McCullough said.
The Organized Crime Unit will consist of six detectives, a sergeant and a lieutenant. That's about the same size as the former vice squad.